You Gotta Know These Architects
- Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) Born in Wisconsin, Wright worked under Louis Sullivan before founding a Chicago practice. His early homes, like the Robie House — which is adjacent to the campus of the University of Chicago — are in the “Prairie” style: horizontal orientation and low roofs. His “organic architecture” tries to harmonize with its inhabitants and site; examples include the Kaufmann House (also known as Fallingwater) in Pennsylvania; the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin; and Taliesin, his home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin. (There is also a Taliesin West, his home and studio in Arizona.) Other notable Wright works are the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Larkin Building in Buffalo, the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, which was one of few buildings to survive a 1923 earthquake (though it has since been demolished).
- Walter Gropius (1883–1969) Though Gropius designed the Fagus Factory (Alfeld, Germany) and the Pan American Building (New York City), he is best known for founding the Bauhaus. Beginning in Weimar in 1919 and moving to a Gropius-designed facility in Dessau in 1925, the Bauhaus school emphasized functionalism, the application of modern methods and materials, and the synthesis of technology and art. Its faculty included artists Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Josef Albers. Gropius would later head Harvard’s architecture department from 1938 to 1952, shifting its focus to incorporate modern design and construction techniques.
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) The leading architect of the International Style of skyscraper design, Mies (like Walter Gropius) worked in the office of Peter Behrens. He directed the Bauhaus from 1930 to 1933, shutting it down before the Nazis could do so. His works include the Barcelona Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition; two adjacent apartment buildings at 860 and 880 North Lake Shore Drive in Chicago; the New National Gallery in Berlin; and the Seagram Building in New York, which he co-designed with Philip Johnson. Mies asserted that “less is more” as a principle of his architectural style. His glass-covered steel structures influenced the design of office buildings in nearly every major city in the U.S.
- I. M. Pei (1917–2019) Born in China, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1935. Though he has also designed moderate-income housing, Pei is best known for large-scale projects. His works include the Mile High Center in Denver, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, the John Hancock Building in Boston, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing, and the recent Miho Museum of Art in Shiga, Japan. He may be best known for two fairly recent works: the glass pyramid erected outside the Louvre in 1989, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, completed in 1995.
- Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) When fire destroyed much of London in 1666, Wren was an Oxford astronomy professor who had designed his first building just four years earlier. Charles II named him the King’s Surveyor of Works in 1669, and he was involved in rebuilding more than 50 London churches in the next half-century, including Saint Paul’s Cathedral. An inscription near his tomb in Saint Paul’s declares “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”
- Le Corbusier (born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) (1887–1965) Possibly more influential even than Wright, he wrote the 1923 book Towards a New Architecture, standard reading in architectural theory courses. One famous Corbusian quote is “A house is a machine for living in.” His floor plans were influenced by Cubist principles of division of space, and the Villa Savoye (Poissy, France) is his best-known early work. He wrote of the “Radiant City” begun anew, a completely planned city with skyscrapers for residents. Applications of his approach to government buildings (such as in Brasilia or in Chandigarh, India), however, largely failed, as did many urban renewal projects produced on the same ideological foundation. Nonetheless, he influenced every other 20th-century figure on this list.
- Louis Sullivan (1856–1924) Sullivan did not design the first skyscraper, but did become a vocal champion of skyscrapers as reflections of the modern age. Though most associated with Chicago, his best-known work is the 1891 Wainwright Building in St. Louis. His partnership with Dankmar Adler produced over 100 buildings. Later works, such as the Babson, Bennett, and Bradley Houses, reflect an organic architecture distinct from that of his onetime employee Frank Lloyd Wright. Sullivan’s dictum that “form should follow function” strongly influenced modern architecture; his writings helped break the profession from classical restraints.
- Filippo Brunelleschi broo-nuh-LESS-kee (1377–1446) A friend of Donatello, Brunelleschi was a skilled sculptor and goldsmith, whose 1401 competition with Lorenzo Ghiberti for the commission of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery is a frequent question topic (Ghiberti got the chief commission). As an architect, he is mainly known for the extraordinary octagonally-based dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (also known as the Florence Cathedral and often called the Duomo, though that is just the general Italian term for a cathedral), which dominates the Florentine skyline and is across the street from the Florence Baptistery. The task required an innovative supporting framework and occupied much of his career (as described in detail in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists). Other projects include the Spedale degli Innocenti (a hospital), the Old Sacristy at San Lorenzo, and the Pazzi Chapel in the Cloisters of Santa Croce, all from 1421 to 1430.
- Frank Gehry (1929–present) Winner of the 1989 Pritzker Prize, Gehry is best-known today for large-scale compositions like the EMP Museum (formerly known as the Experience Music Project) in Seattle, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and the recent, controversial Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. (Bilbao natives describe the latter as “the artichoke,” because of its layers of abstract titanium structures.) Gehry often uses uncommon materials such as plywood and limestone; his designs range from Kobe’s Fishdance Restaurant, shaped like a giant fish, to the soft-sculpture look of the so-called “Fred and Ginger” buildings in Prague. He also designs furniture: the Easy Edges line is made of laminated cardboard; the Gehry Collection consists of chairs named for hockey terms (e.g. Cross Check and Power Play).
- Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) Born Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, Palladio designed villas in and near Venice, including the Villa Rotonda and Villa Barbaro. He integrated Greco-Roman ideas of hierarchy, proportion, and order with contemporary Renaissance styles. His Four Books on Architecture from 1570 relates his theoretical principles. Among architects heavily influenced by Palladio were Inigo Jones and Thomas Jefferson.
- Eero Saarinen (1910–1961) The son of architect Eliel Saarinen, Eero was born in Finland but spent most of his life in the U.S. and died in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He designed many buildings on the campuses of MIT and Yale, as well as Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. and the TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Saarinen may be best known for designing the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, though he died before it was completed. Many of his works are characterized by elegant, sweeping forms, such as the Kresge Auditorium at MIT.
- Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) Gaudí created many extraordinary buildings in Barcelona in the early 20th century. His Art Nouveau-inspired works include the Casa Mila and Casa Batllo apartments, known from their undulating façades, and several works for patron Eusebi Guell, including the Parc Guell, a park in Barcelona. He spent 40 years working on the Expiatory Church of the Holy Family (also known as La Sagrada Familia), which will be finished in 2026. He was also fond of using hyperbolic paraboloids in his work.
This article was contributed by former NAQT writer Raj Dhuwalia.